The Japan Metagame Diaries – The Mutating Metagame

It’s already well into June, and the world of Magic: The Gathering in Japan is heating up along with the weather. Find out what Standard decks American Ryan Schwenk has been facing in Japan lately.

It’s already well into June, and the world of Magic: The Gathering in Japan is heating up along with the weather. Rainy season will soon be upon us over here, and I’m already worrying about how to keep my cards dry during sudden downpours and typhoons. (My friend learned the hard way during a typhoon when he lost his dear friend Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and two foil Birthing Pod).

This summer, various locations around the country are hosting Magic World Cup Qualifier events to let players have a chance of representing their country. Nagoya is hosting one such event on June 30th at the Nagoya City Chushokigyo Shinko Kaikan (say that three times fast!), and I’m planning to be there to report on the metagame, talk with players, and collect a list of the Top 8 decklists (as long as my horrible Japanese can hold out!). If you’re interested in keeping track of the event, please follow my Twitter on June 30th from around 10 AM Japan Standard Time. (If you read this article after the 30th, you can still check my Twitter for comments about the WMCQ before the article for it is written in July.)

But before this MAJOR Magic event, you’re probably interested in seeing how the metagame has been behaving in Nagoya. There will be players from all over the Tokai area participating (Mie, Shizuoka, Aichi, and Gifu prefectures make up the Tokai area), but the majority of players will most likely be Nagoya natives.

The metagame has changed slightly since Game Day at the end of May. Birthing Pod decks and their variants have dominated the local scene in Nagoya, with U/W control decks utilizing Venser and the Blink ability a close second. Not far behind those two deck types are U/W Delver and B/U Zombies. These decks (aside from Delver), however, might not be the same decks that you’ve been seeing at StarCityGames.com Standard Opens, though.

Some of them have mutated.

I’ve seen Demons (Soulcage Fiend), Horrors (Dross Hopper), and Vampires (Blood Artist) working together in the same U/B Zombies deck, joining their evil forces together to devour their opponents. I’ve seen U/G Mill decks gain wings and become W/U/G Angel-Mill decks that use Defy Death to bring Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Bruna, Light of Alabaster (yes, even BRUNA is being played in a deck!) back to life miraculously. But the most interesting mutation I’ve seen in June so far? A blue, green, and red Birthing Pod deck that’s a little different from other RUG Pod decks.

Kenta calls it the CIP Birthing Pod deck, but I call it the Brainwash deck. Creatures tend to forget what they just did and end up doing it again one second later.

Kenta’s deck starts out just like any other Birthing Pod deck. You have your mana creatures like Birds of Paradise and Viridian Emissary to get you started as usual. With a Birthing Pod in play Kenta can ramp that Emissary into a Borderland Ranger, getting him another land, and from there he can ramp into a Solemn Simulacrum and before you know it you have plenty of lands in play. But from there this deck starts to veer off course from your usual Pod deck.

What makes this deck really different than other Pod decks is the use of Ghostly Flicker. With Naya Pod decks you have Restoration Angel to flicker your creature, saving it from dying or to reset an undying creature. But with Kenta’s deck you not only save your creature, but you can also Blink your Pod to use it again. Another ingenious way to use the Ghostly Flicker is to take control of an opponent’s creature with Zealous Conscripts then Blink it so the creature stays on your side (the card clearly says " under YOUR control, not owner’s!"), plus you could use Conscripts again to steal another creature.

I had this happen to me more than once. He’d steal my Zealous Conscripts, Blink it, then steal another creature, and all I could do was drop my jaw and take the damage. Deadeye Navigator uses the same strategy in this deck, letting you Blink the Conscripts, a Titan, or the Navigator itself to reactivate their abilities. This whole brainwashing technique has definitely inspired me, and I wonder how well a Traitorous Blood / Ghostly Flicker combo would work in Standard. I can see it now… You play your Act of Treason / Traitorous Blood / Act of Aggression and steal their creature, then attack. They take the damage because they want their Griselbrand or Primeval Titan back, then once you’re done attacking you Blink it.

Mwahahaha. "Oh, you thought you were getting it back? Sorry."

The cost of casting all those cards might be a little high, but perhaps that type of deck might be where Arcane Melee finally sees some play. I managed to win one game against Kenta, forcing a game 3, but I was mana flooded in the last game and could barely put up a fight before he ramped into an Inferno Titan.

The Bigger Picture

Aside from the mutating metagame, I’ve also noticed a shift in deck types in the last week or so from aggro to control. There are still quite a few people playing with Pod decks, but many have shifted from Humans and token decks to decks like Esper Control. Heck, even Grixis Control has made a limited comeback. Take a look at my list to see what I mean. (For all the dates below, you can factor in my U/R Titan Control deck as well.)

Monday, 5/28 – (2-1) – G/U Infect, G/U Turbo Fog, B/U Zombies, Five-Color Frites

Turbo Fog was fun to play against, but G/U Infect destroyed me. I’m sure with more playtesting against it I could handle it though.

Tuesday, 5/29 – (0-2-1) – Bant Angel Resurrection / Splinterfright Self-Mill, Mono Red, G/R Werewolves

My tie came from the G/R Werewolves guy. He double KO’d me with a Slagstorm when I was at three life and he was at two life. Mono Red with multiple Vexing Devils in my opponent’s opening hand wasn’t fun to play against, and he quickly blew a hole through me.

Saturday, 6/2 – (1-3) — B/U Zombie/Demon Hybrid, U/G/R Blink Pod, Naya Pod, B/U Heartless, G/R Werewolves (same guy from 5/29)

A lot of close matches. I almost beat the Zombie/Demon Hybrid guy. He was the one I was talking about earlier with the mix of Demons, Horrors, and Vampires. He went on to win the whole tournament that day actually. My only win came in a rematch with the G/R Werewolves guy.

Sunday, 6/3 – (1-3-1) — G/R/B Wolf Run (lost), Grixis Control (lost), U/W Miracles (tie), Naya Pod x2, Mono Red, U/B Control, U/W Artifact Venser Control, U/W Delver, B/R/W Frites (lost), Venser Bant Control (won)

Always a tough crowd at Big Magic in Nagoya. My friend Mitsuo who I played against on Game Day with his 7th Volt Deck went 3-2 and finished in the Top 10 out of about 36 people. A misplay against the Miracles deck left me settling for a tie when I attacked with my Zealous Conscripts AFTER stealing his Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and using her -8 ability. He flashed in a Snapcaster at the end of the turn and hit me for my last two life. Gahhh, I can be too hasty sometimes.

Monday, 6/4 – (0-3) — B/R Suicide, B/U Zombies x2, U/W Miracle Control, U/W Delver x2, W/R Humans Haste, G/U/W Spirits

I tried out my B/R Suicide deck with a full playset of Blood Artists and fun undying creatures this day, but it was too slow and lost out to the Zombies and Humans I played against. I’ve revamped it since then, but I haven’t taken it out competitively just yet.

Friday, 6/8 – (1-2) — B/W/R Frites, Naya Pod, G/R Kessig, W/R Humans, U/W Miracles, G/B Pod

I went back to my U/R Titan Control deck this day. I got some unlucky draws and a lot of mulligans, and it left me with a subpar record.

Monday, 6/11 – (2-0-1) – Solar Flare Venser (tie), Esper Control (won), Naya Pod, U/B Control, Mono-Black Demon Sacrifice (won)

Friday, 6/15 – (2-0-1) — W/G/R Primal Surge (won), W/R/B Frites (won), W/U Artifact Control, B/U Zombies, Grixis Control, U/W Miracle Planeswalkers (tie)

As you can see from my two events on Monday and Friday that week, I’ve been doing pretty well for myself. I finished second at those two events, netting myself a shiny promo Acidic Slime each time. I took some of the advice people left in my last article about my UR Titan Controldeck and put it to good use. The first thing I did was invest in another Desolate Lighthouse and Devastation Tide (for a full playset). I took out the Spellskite and the Slagstorm from my sideboard for that extra Devastation Tide, and put in a Nihil Spellbomb to deal with all of the Frites decks I’ve been playing against.

Sunday, 6/17 – (0-2-2) – Naya Wolf Run (lost), Esper Control x2, Grixis Control (tie), Solar Flare (tie), Mono-Black Zombies, U/W Delver, BUG Zombie Pod (lost)

Another challenging tournament at Big Magic. My deck really shut down both the Solar Flare and Grixis Control decks, but I needed a little more time to finish them off. I ended up with two ties instead. The other decks I also played well against, winning my first match in each, but due to some poor sideboard choices I couldn’t win again.

Overall I’ve been getting good results with my current build. The deck draws cards very well and can keep the early game under control until you get can get the cards you need to finish it. Devastation Tide keeps you safe for a turn, and if you can flash it back with a Snapcaster the stall goes for even longer. Since I can’t afford another Snapcaster Mage at the moment, this is a good way to get more uses out of him and the other targetable creatures like Dungeon Geists and Zealous Conscripts.

What leads to most of my losses/ties over here stems from my inexperience against a wide variety of decks. Once you figure one deck out, another pops up. I barely run into anybody playing G/R Wolf Run or U/W Delver anymore, and I rarely play against the same type of deck more once at the events I go to. Somebody I recently met (who just moved to Japan from the USA and is living in Kyoto) said that he’s been doing a lot worse in Japan than he did in the USA. He told me that for the most part, the metagame back home was more linear with people playing with two-color decks. But due to the sheer number of three-color decks in Japan that he’s faced, he’s been having difficulty preparing his deck and sideboard.

Take this deck idea for example.

I’d heard rumors of Zombie Pod decks, and I always thought it sounded like a good idea. I never thought I’d get a chance to play against one until I ran into Masaya Taki at Big Magic. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The deck looks similar to the Zombie Pod deck used by cursed in a Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier tournament, especially the sideboard. What make’s Taki-san’s deck different is his creature selection. I mean, where do I begin?

The Magic Online version of this deck is heavy with Zombies. I know how to deal with Zombies (Pillar of Flame, Red Sun’s Zenith) and I know how to deal with Pod decks, but how do I deal with both? Or should I say, what do I take out first? Blood Artist can get dangerous really quick. With a Gravecrawler in play, the player can quickly get out all of his Artists and suddenly whenever the player goes searching for something, he’s gaining life and you’re losing life.

The highest card you ramp up to is a 3UB Grimgrin, Corpse Born, but you barely ever see him in play. In my opinion, the most dangerous card in this deck is Geralf’s Messenger. In a normal B/U Zombies deck you’d have cards like Mortarpod in order to kill off your Messenger and activate his ability, but in a Pod deck there are a lot more ways to sacrifice a creature.

I lost to this deck because I couldn’t think of a good strategy against it. I was firing blindly into his ranks, taking out the wrong creatures, and when I sided in a few cards like Ancient Grudge to take out his Birthing Pods, I suddenly found myself looking at more of a traditional Zombies deck with Ghouls, Crawlers, and Captains. Against this deck, I think it’s more important to take care of the immediate threat than to take out a creature that MIGHT be bad for you a turn or two down the road. That’s my opinion at least.

Another player I thought had a good idea but wasn’t quite there yet was Yuki Serizawa. He’s been running a G/R Werewolf deck for a while that seems like it should work well, but for some reason it has problems from time to time. Some people have been very interested in running a Werewolves deck, but most people say that it isn’t really viable to run as a tribal deck. Take a look for yourself and tell me what you think.

I thought that this deck was really fun to play against. There are so many dangers lurking on the other side of the board that can flip at any time. It keeps you wondering if he’ll be attacking for five next turn or 25. It’s fast and it has creatures, so what’s the problem?

I think 23 lands are fine for this type of deck, as well as the land selection. Yuki never had problems getting land out. I also think his creature selection is good. Those cards are the best Werewolves you can find. I might change out a Kruin Outlaw or an Instigator gang for another Reckless Waif or Daybreak Ranger though, but I think it depends on the metagame. Werewolves have various abilities, and you can switch certain ones out depending on what decks are popular in Standard in your environment.

What really makes this deck work is Moonmist. Let’s say you start off with a Wolfbitten Captive, a Mayor of Avabruck, and a Daybreak Ranger. Your opponent is going to be forced to play a card each turn even if they don’t want to in order to keep the cards from transforming. By the fourth turn you lay down your Full Moon’s Rise and attack with your three Werewolves for nine damage (because of the Mayor’s ability).

Your opponent decides to block your Mayor of Avabruck, but before damage is dealt you cast Moonmist to transform your Wolves. Suddenly you go from dealing seven damage to eleven plus whatever tramples over the creature blocking the 4/3 Mayor. And the best part of it is that if your creatures die, you can sacrifice the Full Moon’s Rise to regenerate everybody and do it again next turn. Slagstorm also works nice with Full Moon’s Rise if you need to wipe the board of Geist of Saint Traft or other dangerous creatures.

While Reforge the Soul is a great way to get you seven new cards, I think giving the other player more cards too is a major drawback. With all of the high-powered creatures and trample damage going through, I think something like Hunter’s Insight might work better in this deck. I’m not sure what to think of his sideboard. It seems decent against decks that focus on the graveyard and Birthing Pod decks, and the Autumn’s Veils are good against control…but it seems like this deck is lacking flexibility. For example, other than the Daybreak Rangers, how would you take out flyers like Delver or Spirits from Lingering Souls? Like I said, I think this is a good idea, but it still needs some work.

I ended up tying Yuki one match, but other than that one time, I’ve usually gotten the win since his deck is weak against control.

That brings this installment of the Japan Metagame Diaries to an end. I’m really excited about the World Cup Qualifier on June 30th, and I look forward to bringing you the report next time. Be sure to check out my Twitter if you’d like a sneak peak or if you’re just interested in what the best players in central Japan are using. I also want to wish all of you good luck at your M13 Prereleases on July 7th and 8th! I can’t wait to see how the meta will mutate again.

Until next month, sayonara!